Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia

by
The carbon monoxide detector in an apartment sounded. A maintenance worker replaced the batteries; the alarm later sounded again. The following morning, tenants called Virginia Natural Gas (VNG). VNG’s inspector measured the apartment’s CO levels as hazardous, turned off the gas, and “red-tagged” the furnace. A maintenance worker later declared that he had checked the furnace and vent pipes for leaks, found an attic vent pipe loose, reattached it, and rechecked the CO level, Although not licensed to make heating system repairs, he used screws to secure the sections, contrary to specifications. A code enforcement officer determined that CO levels were within the acceptable range, without visiting the attic or inspecting the equipment. Weeks later, the alarm sounded again. A VNG inspector red-tagged the furnace. With a new furnace installed, the CO levels remained high. The adjoining apartment's furnace was venting into the attic. When the flue was repaired, CO levels dropped. The tenants suffered injuries. In their suit, the court ruled that the tenants failed to establish the requisite level of negligence for punitive damages. They were permitted, over the landlord’s objection, to increase their prayers for compensatory damages. The jury awarded three tenants $200,000 each and a fourth $3,500,000. The Supreme Court of Virginia reversed in part and remanded for a new trial. The court erred in admitting the testimony of an environmental medicine specialist, which had not been disclosed under Rule 4:1(b)(4)(A)(i); erred in admitting testimony regarding alleged defects in the installation of the new furnace--such defects were after-the-fact and not relevant; in permitting amendment of the prayers for relief; in granting a spoliation instruction with regard to tenants’ inability to inspect the furnace. View "Emerald Point, LLC v. Hawkins" on Justia Law

by
Ahmed alleged that as an inmate at Greensville Correctional Center, he suffered an injury to his head and neck on September 10, 2013, when the telephone he was using fell from the wall and struck him. Ahmed filed informal complaints on the same day against the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC). DOC responded on September 27. Ahmed filed grievances on September 30, which the DOC ruled to be “[u]nfounded” on October 22. On October 24, Ahmed filed an appeal, triggering a “Level II” review under the Inmate Grievance Procedure. DOC affirmed on October 30, informing Ahmed that “Level II is the last level of appeal” and that he has “exhausted all administrative remedies.” Ahmed filed notice of a tort claim against the Commonwealth on September 22, 2014, with his required affidavit verifying that he had exhausted administrative remedies. Ahmed filed a complaint on February 24, 2016. The circuit court dismissed, finding that Ahmed’s notice of claim was not filed within one year (VTCA 8.01-195.7). The Supreme Court of Virginia reversed. Code section 8.01-195.3(7) states that “[t]he time for filing the notice of tort claim shall be tolled during the pendency of the grievance procedure." The grievance process continued until October 30, 2013. View "Ahmed v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

by
At issue was whether, during the sale of JB&A, Inc., a government contracting firm, to MCR Federal, LLC, another government contractor, MCR’s false statement of that a representation and warranty in the contract remained true was a fraudulent act independent of the contractual relationship such that JB&A properly brought actions for both fraud and breach of contract. The trial court held MCR liable for breach of contract and constructive fraud and awarded $12 million in compensatory damages. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) JB&A did not bring proper claims for actual or constructive fraud; (2) the evidence presented at trial established that MCR’s breach of contract caused JB&A substantial damages; (3) the trial court properly granted compensatory damages of $12 million and pre-judgment interest of $3.5 million; and (4) the trial court erred in awarding JB&A attorney’s fees in the amount of $1.9 million for prevailing on its claim of constructive fraud. View "MCR Federal, LLC v. JB&A, Inc." on Justia Law

by
A court may raise judicial estoppel on its own motion in an appropriate case, and therefore, the doctrine is not waived if not pled by the parties. After Plaintiff initiated Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings, he filed a defamation claim against Defendants. Plaintiff subsequently completed the payments required by the Chapter 13 plan, and the bankruptcy court ordered the discharge of his remaining unsecured debts. Defendants moved for summary judgment and then filed a reply brief to Plaintiff’s brief in opposition to the motion, arguing that Plaintiff was judicially estopped from prosecuting his defamation claim because he failed to timely disclose it to the bankruptcy court. The circuit court granted the motion, concluding that the doctrine of judicial estoppel prohibited Plaintiff from prosecuting his defamation claim after taking the position in the bankruptcy court that it did not exist. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the doctrine of judicial estoppel was not waived by Defendants for their failure to raise it in their pleadings; and (2) Plaintiff identified no reversible error in the circuit court’s application of judicial estoppel. View "Eilber v. Floor Care Specialists, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded the judgment of the circuit court dismissing La Bella Dona Skin Care, Inc.’s (LBD) civil conspiracy claims, granting summary judgment on LBD’s claim for fraudulent conveyance, and applying a clear and convincing standard of proof to LBD’s mere continuation theory of successor liability. LBD filed this complaint against eleven defendants seeking damages and injunctive relief as a result of Defendants’ involvement in a series of allegedly fraudulent conveyances designed to avoid an outstanding judgment in favor of LBD. The court held that the circuit court (1) did not err when it dismissed LBD’s civil conspiracy claims on demurrer where a fraudulent conveyance under Va. Code 55-80 cannot serve as the predicate unlawful act needed to support a claim for statutory or common law conspiracy; (2) erred in dismissing LBD’s fraudulent conveyance claim on summary judgment where a prima facie case of fraudulent conveyance may be established when the recipient is a third party creditor with a higher security interest; and (3) erred by applying a clear and convincing standard of proof to LBD’s mere continuation theory of successor liability. View "La Bella Dona Skin Care, Inc. v. Belle Femme Enterprises" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court concluding that McKinley Chiropractic Center, P.C. (McKinley) was entitled to judgment against Erie Insurance Company (Erie). Devonta Dodson was involved in a motor vehicle collision with Joann Hutson. Erie insured Hutson with liability coverage under an automobile insurance company. Dodson, who sought chiropractic care for her injuries arising from the collision, executed a document assigning to McKinley all insurance and/or litigation proceeds to which she may be entitled and all causes of action she might have against Erie. Dodson subsequently accepted $7,300 from Erie in return for Dodson’s agreement to release both Hutson and Erie from causes of action arising from the claimed legal liability of Hutson and Erie arising out of the accident. McKinley subsequently filed a warrant in debt against Erie. The district court rendered judgment for the chiropractic services provided to Dodson. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, as a matter of law, McKinley did not have a right to sue Erie. View "Erie Insurance Co. v. McKinley Chiropractic Center, P.C." on Justia Law

by
In this medical malpractice action, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant’s motion to set aside the jury verdict in favor of Plaintiff. On appeal, Defendant argued that Plaintiff did not plead a claim for battery in her complaint and that the trial court erred in instructing the jury on battery and informed consent and in denying his motion to strike that claim. The Supreme Court agreed with Defendant, holding (1) the initial complaint did not allege a claim for battery, and the trial court erred in instructing the jury on battery; (2) Plaintiff failed to establish proximate causation in connection with a theory of informed consent; and (3) the appropriate remedy for the errors was a remand for a new trial on Plaintiff’s original theory of negligence. View "Allison v. Brown" on Justia Law

by
For nearly a decade, Petitioner, as a pro se litigant, has filed numerous pleadings in the Supreme Court, all of which have been meritless. In 2017, the Supreme Court issued a rule to show cause against Petitioner, directing her to show cause why she should not be prohibited from filing any future pro se petition for appeal, or other pleading in the court, without first obtaining leave of court. In the underlying case, Petitioner field a complaint against Defendant alleging breach of contract and gross negligence. The trial court dismissed the case with prejudice. Petitioner unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court for an appeal. The Supreme Court denied Adkins’ petition for rehearing and instructed the clerk to comply with this order as it pertains to future filings, finding it necessary to impose a pre-filing injunction against Petitioner in this court. View "Adkins v. CP/IPERS Arlington Hotel LLC" on Justia Law

by
Gina Coutlakis filed a third amended complaint against CSX Transportation, Inc., the train’s conductor, and the train’s engineer (collectively, Appellees) alleging that Appellees’ negligence resulted in the death of her husband, James Coutlakis, after he was struck by a part of the train. Appellees demurred, arguing that James’s contributory negligence was evident on the face of the complaint, and therefore, Gina’s claim was barred. Further, Appellees asserted that Gina’s reliance on the last clear chance doctrine was misplaced. The trial court sustained the demurrer. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Gina’s third amended complaint contained sufficient allegations to survive the demurrer and that a rational jury could conclude the last clear chance doctrine applies based upon the facts pled and any reasonable inferences therefrom. Remanded. View "Coutlakis v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In February 2012, Sheryl Ricketts was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Ricketts underwent surgery for her injuries. In January 2014, Ricketts filed a complaint alleging that Charlie Strange’s negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the accident. Strange moved to summary judgment, alleging that Ricketts lacked standing to pursue her claim because, in September 2012, she had filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in the bankruptcy court. Strange argued that because Ricketts failed to properly exempt her negligence claim from the bankruptcy estate, the claim was assertable only by the trustee in bankruptcy. The circuit court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of Strange. The circuit court subsequently denied Ricketts’s motions to correct a misnomer in her complaint or substitute the bankruptcy trustee as the proper plaintiff. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) properly granted Strange’s motion for summary judgment because Ricketts did not properly exempt her negligence claim from the bankruptcy estate, and therefore, Ricketts lacked standing to pursue it; and (2) did not err by denying Ricketts’s motions for leave to amend her complaint. View "Ricketts v. Strange" on Justia Law